story by Claire Miller
This time last year, College of Education & Human Development Associate Professor Sue Kasun had just begun teaching and researching transnationalism – cultural practices that span borders – in Mexico. Her work was part of a nine-month Fulbright-García Robles U.S. Scholar program hosted by the State University of Hidalgo in Pachuca, Mexico.
Now that she’s returned to the U.S., she can reflect on what she learned in her time abroad and apply it to her classes with CEHD students, her upcoming research projects and her work with the college’s Center for Transnational and Multilingual Education.
Moving and learning across borders
The U.S.-Mexico Commission for Educational and Cultural Exchange (COMEXUS) supported Kasun’s academic year in Mexico, where she primarily taught college students planning to become language teachers and conducted research on transnationalism, identity and English as a global language.
“There’s a high level of transnationalism inside Mexico, from Mexicans’ knowledge of global politics and their skills with languages to their lived experiences in the U.S. or with relatives who live in the U.S.,” she said.
Kasun interviewed several students who had lived in the U.S. for a significant period of time, asking questions about their identities, language use, reasons for returning to Mexico and their feelings about the future.
“Some students felt they were bicultural and others felt very connected to either the U.S. or Mexico. Their histories were as unique as each one of them,” she said.
She also found that many Mexicans who return home after living abroad often experience tension with those who haven’t lived in another country, and the school systems are thinking about how they best support students who have returned to Mexico after several months or years away.
“Mexico has a much shorter history of having mass numbers of students who don’t speak the country’s languages than the U.S.,” Kasun said. “Now, Mexico is starting to sort through policies that could offer academic support for returning students.”
Language programs for youth prisons in Mexico
Kasun worked with the State University of Hidalgo administration to establish an English language program in a local youth prison – a project she hadn’t initially planned to do but one that provided a rich learning environment for both her students and the youth they taught.
The prison, which houses close to 30 young people ages 15-24, opened its doors weekly for Kasun’s students to each bring in tailored lesson plans for 1-2 incarcerated youth.
These weekly visits to the prison provided a safe space for the youth to learn language skills and gave Kasun’s students the opportunity to reflect on their teaching practices in a real-world setting.
“From the first class inside the prison, my students were disabused of the notion of what makes a ‘criminal’ and were deeply respectful of who they were teaching,” Kasun said. “They were also able to think about issues of racism, power and positive life goals.”
This work has continued as a capstone project for the bachelor’s students with whom Kasun worked.
Staying connected to Mexico
Kasun may be back on Georgia State’s campus this year, but her time in Mexico will continue to influence her work moving forward.
As director of a college center on transnational education, she will host a visiting graduate student doing research on transnationals in Mexican schools. Kasun will still serve on thesis and dissertation committees for some of her State University of Hidalgo students studying indigenous education.
She hopes to maintain collaborations with her Mexican colleagues by applying for new grant funding, continuing her research on Mexican identity and bringing scholars to the U.S. for discussions on making language instruction meaningful for all students.
“I want more than ever to share my expanding knowledge of transnationalism and build better bridges of understanding across borders,” she said.